Movies may stand at the pinnacle of the art of moving pictures, but they are only a small part of the array of images that surround us at home, in school, and at work. Moving images are increasingly how we communicate with each other, and they are no longer a one-way form of communication. With digital video, computers, and camera phones, visual communication is becoming a dialogue. At work we are increasingly expected to have digital communication skills, and those who have them, or who have the knowledge to supervise others who have them, are at a growing advantage. Understanding how to look at motion pictures and how to make them has in recent years been given the name visual literacy.
Visual literacy education includes
- Media appreciation programs
- Media production education and the nurturing of young filmmakers
- Exhibition of the full range of filmmaking
- Promoting the awareness of the local film industry, its history, and its future
Students who do have access to production classes are rarely exposed to anything but commercial Hollywood filmmaking. Growing up in a community that has shown little interest in motion pictures as an art, or in film history, or the variety of technique and themes found in world cinema, students lack the viewing experiences that foster innovations needed to compete in a field that demands constant experimentation. And as citizens and consumers of images, we are not being brought up to see moving images critically, with the perspective that a wide variety of viewing experience offers.
In Rockland County, some schools have state-of-the-art programs in visual education, while others have no programs at all. Adult education is scarce, although video production classes are offered by the Communication Arts Department at SUNY Rockland. The equipment needed for educational programs in media production can be expensive, and the technology required is constantly changing.
Rivertown Film was founded to provide Rockland County with its first venue devoted to exhibiting films that are deemed too specialized to be shown in commercial movie theaters. Instead, Rockland County has had a patchwork of programs that, beside Rivertown Film, includes the renowned Big Screen Classics series at the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern, the very popular Rockland Jewish Film Festival, the venerable Foreign Film Festival and American Independent Film Festival presented by the Finkelstein Library at SUNY Rockland, a fledgling Rockland Film Festival, and many public library programs. This is certainly the only county in the metropolitan area, or in almost any metropolitan area, and even many rural areas, without a theater showing specialized films.
It is especially important that a community that is called home by so many professionals in the media arts pays attention to their work. Film, video, and media professionals contribute to the local economy, through taxes if not commerce, but receive very few services to their field, continuing education, or nurturing of their future employees and audiences. In contrast, many decades ago our schools recognized the social and economic value of our local theater and music communities, and instituted educational programs that are hugely popular and have become among the best in the nation.
Rivertown Film is devoted to drawing attention to visual literacy. Our programs include:
- The annual Rockland Student Film Festival
- The annual Rockland Short Film Festival
- Screenings of work made by local filmmakers, such as “Megamall” and “Right to Return” in the fall of 2007 and “Daughters of Wisdom” in the winter of 2008
- Exhibition programs such as Wednesday Night at the Movies, presented with Riverspace Arts in Nyack, featuring foreign, independent, and documentary films that are not otherwise shown in local theaters.
- Special series such as World Cinema Classics, in collaboration with Riverspace and the Lafayette Theatre, which presented important classics that have never appeared on local screens.
- Seminars such as How To Get the Most From Your Video Camera, and networking opportunities for local filmmakers.
Visual literacy is a local issue. Rivertown Film addresses it with a variety of programs under the title of Local Focus.